Rose Under Fire (Code Name Verity #02) by Elizabeth Wein Review

roseunderfireFollowing up Code Name Verity with Rose Under Fire was not one of my brighter ideas. Verity left me heartbroken and in depression (I still don’t think I’m over Julie) and this was just as intense if not more so.

We are still in the same world as Verity with some of the characters from the previous books also appearing here but the main protagonist was a new character and her struggle was significantly different from Julie and Maddie’s. Rose Under Fire introduces us to Rose Justice, another ATA pilot ferrying beat up planes for repair as well as other non-combat missions. During one such routine mission, Rose suddenly finds herself blocked by two German planes and before she can fully comprehend what’s happening, she is behind enemy lines. She is soon sent to Ravensbrück prison camp. What follows is her struggle, not only to survive but to also retain her sanity while doing so.

Rose Under Fire was more bleak than Verity. For one, Verity provided some laugh out loud moments courtesy Julie. Her writing was at once hilarious and horrifying. Well, here the hilarious bit was missing. It was one horrifying moment after another till they started blending into each other. Wein’s world-building is brilliant (somehow I don’t think wonderful is the right word, not in this context) You really are transported into that horrible world with its concrete walls and overflowing ditches. It is a fully realised world and while reading, you can’t help but visualise the world the character suddenly finds herself in. And yet, every time I visualised it, I could only see a world devoid of colour, full of dull greys. But if Wein’s world-building is great then her character development is even better. Each character, no matter how much time they spent on paper, was fully realised and relatable. From the resourceful Elodie to Lisette, the camp mother.

Its portrayal of the characters’ struggle was really well done. Especially when Rose escapes and is put up at the Ritz in Paris. She is even less sure of herself here than she was in the camp. She has no idea what to do with herself now that she has time and freedom, with nobody barking orders and no sirens going off. That even in freedom, she felt removed from those around her, even her friends.

Unlike Verity, Rose Under Fire is told from just one point of view, save for one chapter that was from Maddie’s viewpoint. The rest of the book followed the same template with regard to non-linear narrative. It kept jumping back and forth in time and far from being annoying, it was a relief. It was a relief when her account of the camp was followed by what was happening in the present because it gave the readers a break as well.

What I loved about Rose was that she was a normal character. She was just like the rest of us. There were times when she gave up and yet there also times when she persevered. She was human.

I also loved Irina with her plane building and no-nonsense attitude. Then there was Lisette, the Lagermutter (camp mother), who was kind and loving in that brutal environment. I was glad to see more of Anna (or not, considering she was also at the camp as a prisoner) There was Roza with her sharp tongue and Karolina, the animator. I also loved the resourceful Elodie, she who could get you anything from cigarettes to sugar cubes. She was hardly present in the book and yet made such a lasting impression. I’m not exaggerating when I say this book is heartbreaking. You come to love so many characters and you know that they’re not all going to make it and yet, even as you accept that, their death hits you like a sucker punch all the same.

Rose Under Fire was a gripping read and one of the best books I’ve read this year (this along with Code Name Verity) It was immersive and rich with detail and real characters who you can’t help but care about.

P.S. – I was so happy when Rose and Roza met again. I like to believe that Roza lived with Rose in Scotland and was part of a family again. I would have liked to see Irina again but was happy to know that she was safe and that Lisette was also a writer. Lastly, I want to believe that Rose did go and testify at Hamburg, in favour of Anna Engel and perhaps took her flying after it was all over.

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Kaguyahime No Monogatari (2013)

Director: Isao Takahata (Studio Ghibli)

Runtime: 137 minutes

Country: Japan

Ghibli_TaleofPrincessKaguya_Takahata2013 saw both the co-founders of Studio Ghibli retiring almost simultaneously much to our dismay. While Hayao Miayazaki ended his run with The Wind Rises, Kaguyahime No Monogatari was Isao Takahata’s final film and he could not have retired with a better film.

Now, this isn’t a review. I don’t think I could articulate well enough to review this particular gem, in fact, I feel woefully inadequate. What this is, is me trying to sum up all the things that I loved about this film and hope that it makes sense and gives you some sense of what the film is about.

Kaguyahime No Monogatari is based on a Japanese folk tale where a woodcutter finds a little girl in a bamboo flower. He takes her home, believing that she is a gift from the gods and that she must be raised as a princess. Blessed with riches, he soon uproots his family to a city and starts preparing his daughter to be a princess.

Kaguyahime No Monogatari is one of those exceedingly rare films that stay with the viewer long after they’re over. It explores so many themes that it is hard to sum them all up while still doing them justice. There is a lingering sense of grief that’s present from beginning to end. Even in its happiest moments, you know that things aren’t going to end well.

One of the main themes the film explores is one about a parent’s idea of his/her child’s happiness. In the film, the Bamboo Cutter is convinced that his daughter is a divine gift and thus a princess. He takes her away from their rural home, moves them to the city to make sure that she can be taught the graces of a highborn lady. He is convinced that he’s doing this for his daughter, for her happiness. But he never stops to ask what she wants. He doesn’t realise that she was happiest in their little, dilapidated village home, playing in the bamboo forest and the surrounding fields. He fails to see her misery in the city where she can never go outside, she is a prisoner in her own house, it is a beautiful house, a beautiful cage, but a cage nonetheless. He is so blinded by his own ambition that he can’t see that his daughter is a mere shadow of herself. He wants her to be a princess when all she wants is a simple life.

With regard to the father, he isn’t demonized. He clearly loves his daughter, he’s just lost sight of her happiness in the glare of his own ambition. He is so focused on improving his station and his social standing that he convinces himself into believing that it’s all for this daughter. In his quest for Kaguya’s ‘happiness’, he actually makes her deeply miserable.

21 3Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 11.11.54 pmThe only person who sees and understands her pain, is her mother who is powerless to do anything about it. She helps in her own way, ferrying away Kaguya to their old village home and taking her outside their palatial house, giving her a measure of peace away from prying eyes, but at the end of the day, they must return to the city. She tries to intervene on Kaguya’s behalf numerous times but is silenced because the final decision rests with her husband. Theirs is a beautiful relationship, if not for her, Kaguya would have fled with the Celestial Beings even sooner.

One can’t help but feel the same helplessness that Kaguya’s mother experiences looking at her. Her exuberant spirit is stifled under all those kimonos and what is socially acceptable and what isn’t. She very nearly becomes a porcelain doll, beautiful to behold but dead inside. Her own beauty is a weapon used against her, adding yet another wall between her and the rest of the world. She is seen as a possession, an object to be acquired, yet those vying for her hand, know nothing of her own feelings and wants. The life that she wanted was denied to her. She was living the life of a princess and she hated every minute of it.

Kaguyahime No Monogatari was Takahata’s labour of love. It took him eight years to finish the film and its beauty and depth are a testament to his hard work paying off. The animation is another stunning aspect of the film. It looks so different from the animation we see these days, not just in terms of anime but also Western animation. This style almost marks a return to simpler styles of animation even with regards to hand-drawn animation. We aren’t given all the information when we look at a frame from Kaguyahime No Monogatari. There is beauty and bright colours but we aren’t inundated with details the way we are with the other animated films. The absence of those details gives the viewer the chance to fill in those blanks from his/her own imagination, making for a more rewarding viewing experience. The human figures also appear a little skewed, and some might even call them crude when compared to other animated films, but they only add to the film because they highlight the characters’ emotions.

 You can sense Kaguya's desperation and helplessness, her frustration. She has no control over her own life.
You can sense Kaguya’s desperation and helplessness, her frustration. She has no control over her own life.

Every frame looks like a watercolour painting with broad strokes of charcoal. There are scenes where it almost feels like one can see the texture of the paper. Some of the scenes are reminiscent of the old Japanese scroll paintings. What was also stunning was the way they captured Kaguya’s state of mind, where the colour slowly leeches away from the frame leaving only bold charcoal lines with just one source of bright colour (usually red) which immediately draws the viewer’s eye to Kaguya. The level of detail also diminishes with each passing frame which heightens the sense of speed as well urgency while also conveying Kaguya’s desperation. Additionally, the dream sequences in this film are among the best I’ve ever seen, be it live-action or animation. vlcsnap-2015-09-11-17h16m59s116 vlcsnap-2015-09-11-17h17m13s438 vlcsnap-2015-09-11-17h19m38s262 vlcsnap-2015-09-11-17h20m53s400vlcsnap-2015-09-11-17h20m19s380vlcsnap-2015-09-11-17h21m35s895

One cannot speaks about Kaguyahime No Monogatari without mentioning the spellbinding score, composed by the brilliant Joe Hisaishi. The score for most Ghibli films is beautiful but this one is especially so. Like the style of animation, the music too is an integral part of the film adding to its beauty and amplifying the emotions on screen. Here’s Joe Hisaishi conducting the New Japan Philharmonic World Dream Orchestra, performing the scoundtrack for Kaguyahime No Monogatari. It is beautiful and a real treat to watch.

Joe Hisaishi: The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Kaguyahime No Monogatari is one of the best animated films to come out of Studio Ghibli and easily one of the best animated films I have ever seen. It is visually stunning and thematically deep and intense and has so many layers that every viewing reveals something new. It is also an example of a film where all the the different aspects of the film were perfectly in sync and made for one beautiful film.

Red Queen (Red Queen #1) by Victoria Aveyard Review

red_queen_book_.3b04a151720.originalI picked this up to read, then put it aside and then picked it up again, giving it a second chance. Red Queen was decent in the beginning and then turned extremely dull in the middle while the end was predictable.

Also, I didn’t like Mare. For all her talk about her family, it didn’t take her long to forget them. And, what’s with her behaviour with Cal, always giving him mixed signals, kissing him one moment and then snubbing him the next. It’s a wonder he continued to care for her the way he did. Also I can’t stand character who are willfully blind.

I never trusted Maven. Remember the saying, “if something is too good to be true, it probably is.” Well, it seems that was custom-made for Maven. He was a little too nice and always knew what to say. Never trust someone who is so good with words. Also, he was the Queen’s son, that should have been enough to give Mare pause. But she chose to ignore all of that and continued to trust him and suffered for it.

I thought Cal was the only decent character in the book. He was far from perfect but he wasn’t cruel. He was steadfast in his beliefs and tried to help Mare whenever he could. He never lied to her, not even when he knew that it would affect her opinion of him. I can’t say the same for Mare, who lied to him more often than not. I thought he was a genuinely conflicted character, he didn’t want to be king but since he couldn’t avoid it, he wanted to do the best he could.

The other character I really liked was Julian. He was smart and tried to help Mare even at the cost of his own life.

I barely brought myself to finish Red Queen and more than anything, I feel disappointment. The high praise had me thinking that perhaps it will be entertaining, instead I had to trudge through this…

Archangel’s Enigma (Guild Hunter #08) by Nalini Singh Review

archangels enigma1We are currently at Book 8 of the Guild Hunter and we are getting close to the end, of the Seven, it is Illium, Aodhan and Venom who remain. I really enjoyed Archangel’s Enigma and unlike the previous book, where the overall plot barely seemed to move, there were clear progressions here.

Archangel’s Enigma focuses on Naasir, a member of the Seven and Andromeda, a scholar who is crucial to finding a Sleeping Ancient before the bat-shit crazy Lijuan kills him. The root of her motive for killing an Ancient is an ancient prophecy that states that an Ancient would be key to her eventual downfall and she can’t let that happen. Most prophecies seem self-fulfilling to me and this one was no different, but more on that later. Naasir and Andromeda spent a large chunk of the book hunting for Alexander’s sleeping location while at the same evading Lijuan and her general Xi’s clutches and making sure that they reach Alexander before Lijuan and her forces. The world is still reeling with the effects of the Cascade and it is not even close to being over.

I was getting a little concerned that the romance element would overtake the plot, or distract from it. That didn’t happen here. In fact, most of the book was squarely focused on locating the sleeping Ancient. Yes, there was the push and pull between Naasir and Andromeda but that didn’t take away from the larger plot. Also, unlike Archangel’s Shadow where Raphael and Elena were featured very prominently, that was not the case here. They were present but only fleetingly. Janvier and Ashwini’s pairing wasn’t compelling enough on its own, so we had Raphael and Elena as well, plus a somewhat ham-handed plot that didn’t serve any purpose. Here Naasir and Andromeda were front and centre. Also, Singh cut down on the angst that dragged Shadows and that was very refreshing. Plus, we also learned more about Naasir and what he really is so that was a bonus. Archangel’s Enigma was a return to Singh’s old form and I was happy so see that.

What can I say about Naasir? He was so likeable and he had no douche moments! He was every bit as wild and unpredictable as expected. And his search for his mate was sweet and adorable. It was also a nice change to see things from his perspective because it was different from the others’. He wasn’t quite a vampire and there was still something inherently wild within him that would never change. His view of and interaction with others was often more insightful because it wasn’t hampered by social graces and protocol. He didn’t care what others thought of him or their expectations of him. He was lethal and I loved his irreverent attitude. Also, his treatment of Andromeda was sweet. He respected her boundaries and saw her a very capable individual and not some frail flower that needed to be protected and coddled. He respected her views and opinions and was always respectful. I loved Naasir.

Then there was Andromeda. She was such a pleasant change from Ashwini. Yes, she too had demons and considering that she supposed to return to Charisemnon’s court was not something she was looking forward to in the least. But what little time of freedom she had, she made it count. She was abducted by Lijuan and managed to mislead her, freed another angel who had been imprisoned by her and thought dead by the rest of the world and managed to avert the death of an Ancient. She was never a damsel in distress. So often, heroines are described as capable, strong women but they never actually are, always needing the hero to ride in and save them. Andromeda really was capable, strong, intelligent, resilient and had the ability to think on her feet. Once she fell for Naasir, she didn’t waste time lying to herself or to him about what she felt.

We also got our first look at another Ancient, Alexander, the erstwhile Archangel of Persia. I’m curious to learn more about him as we move forward. One Archangel I want to see more of and learn more about is Favashi. She is the current Archangel of Persia and the most affected by Alexander’s return. I like her and I hope she doesn’t secretly join forces with Lijuan. We’ve seen Elijah, Titus, Astaad, Neha and even Michaela, leaving only Favashi. And I for one am looking forward to learning more about her. I know that Raphael doesn’t trust her and perhaps he’s right not to. But if she intended to join Lijuan, I don’t think she would have demonstrated her newfound ability. So far, there had only been rumours, there was no need for her confirm them. I think she is honourable but in a Cadre where she is the youngest Archangel, she can’t afford to look soft, not even for a second.

At present, Lijuan’s only ally is Charisemnon and perhaps just as insane as her. I want to believe that the rest of the Cadre will look at her and take a lesson on what not to do but that’s wishful thinking. I know that before the big finale, more will get seduced by her lies and the promise of power and godhood.

Now for the prophecy, more often than not, they are self-fulfilling. For instance, in Archangel’s Enigma, the only reason Lijuan went looking for Alexander and sought to kill him before he woke was because of a prophecy that stated he would kill her. In taking it at face value, she set into motion the very events that lead to him being woken up. Naasir and Andromeda also started looking for him to wake him up so he wouldn’t be vulnerable to an attack. In her quest for the archangel’s resting place, Lijuan killed Rohan, his only son, thus making sure that Alexander would indeed kill her. If she had simply let sleeping dogs lie, he would still be asleep and even if he had woken because of the Cascade, he wouldn’t immediately have sided with Raphael because he did have a soft corner for Lijuan when she was a young Archangel. By acting on the prophecy she may have set up her own downfall.

I’m fairly certain the next book will be about Illium, unless Singh inserts another Raphael-Elena book, but at this point that seems unlikely. I love Illium and I’m even less ready for him to leave the Seven than he is, so I was very happy that that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. I can’t wait to read more about him (and more about Favashi, please)

Naasir and Andromeda maybe my favourite couple in the Guild Hunter Series, with the exception of Raphael and Elena (obviously) Those two are still my favourite but these two are a very close second.

Archangel’s Enigma did a good job of setting up the principle characters (the new ones I mean) and established that the world is still very much in flux because of the Cascade, affecting not just the Archangels but also other ordinary angels. Could this mean something for Elena as well, considering that she is the only Made Angel. We’ll see I suppose. This book was a very fast read and my only complaint is that I’ll have to wait till next year for the next one to come out. Patience is not always a virtue…